Medically Mad or Just Thinking Bad? Early Greek on Being Crazy

An ancient distinction between mental maladies with absolutely no relevance to the modern day.

Assemblywomen, 248-253

[First Woman]: But what if Kephalos attacks you with abuse—
How will you response to him in the assembly?

[Praksagora]: I will say he’s out of his mind [paraphronein]

[First Woman]: but everyone knows this!

[Praksagora]: then I will also call him psychopathic [lit. ‘black-biled’=melancholic].

[First Woman]: They know this too.

[Praksagora]: But I will add that he produces terrible ceramics and will then do a fine job of doing the same to the city.

ἀτὰρ ἢν Κέφαλός σοι λοιδορῆται προσφθαρείς,
πῶς ἀντερεῖς πρὸς αὐτὸν ἐν τἠκκλησίᾳ;
ΠΡΑΞΑΓΟΡΑ φήσω παραφρονεῖν αὐτόν.
ΓΥΝΗ Α …ἀλλὰ τοῦτό γε
ἴσασι πάντες.
ΠΡΑΞΑΓΟΡΑ ἀλλὰ καὶ μελαγχολᾶν.
ΓΥΝΗ Α καὶ τοῦτ᾿ ἴσασιν.
ΠΡΑΞΑΓΟΡΑἀλλὰ καὶ τὰ τρύβλια
κακῶς κεραμεύειν, τὴν δὲ πόλιν εὖ καὶ καλῶς.

Melancholy here contrasts with “thinking -wrongly” (paraphronein). A scholion to another play by Aristophanes glosses the realms of these types of mental maladies (Schol. ad Plut. 11a ex 20-28)

“He seems to say this because he harmed or helped his master through his own virtue more—and while he disturbed him through prophecy, he made him crazy [melankholan] through medicine and took away his ability to think [phronein] through wisdom, which is the art of thinking. The servant lies. For he does not speak the truth….”

…τοῦτο οὖν
ἔοικε λέγειν, ὅτι διὰ τῶν ἑαυτοῦ
μᾶλλον ἀρετῶν ἔβλαψε τὸν δεσπότην
ἤπερ ὠφέλησε, καὶ διὰ μὲν τῆς
μαντείας ἐτάραξε, διὰ δὲ τῆς ἰατρι-
κῆς μελαγχολᾶν ἐποίησε, διὰ δὲ
τῆς σοφίας, ὅ ἐστι τῆς φρονήσεως,
τοῦ φρονεῖν αὐτὸν ἀφείλατο. ψεύδεται
ὁ δοῦλος· οὐ γὰρ ἀλήθειαν λέγει

Where melancholy denotes a physical ailment [i.e. biologically caused and treated], paraphrosunê indicates parafunctionality which may be treated without medicine.

μελαγχολάω: to be atrabilious, melancholy-mad.

μελαγχολία: atrabiliousness, melancholy, a disease [atual LSJ definition]

παραφροσύνη, ἡ:  wandering of mind, derangment, delirium

παραφρονέω: to be beside oneself, be deranged, or mad.

Lyrica Adespota, fr. 3.9-10

“Lust–that magician–takes me. It descends upon my mind
And makes me crazy!”

῎Ερως μ’ ἔλα]β’ ὁ γόης· εἰς τὴν ψυχήν μου εἰσπε-
σὼν [ποιεῖ μ]ε παραφρονεῖν.

Aristotle, Metaphysics 4.1009b

“In the same way, ‘truth’ concerning the way things appear has come to some people from their senses. They believe that it is right that truth should be judged neither by the multitude or the scarcity [of those who believe it]; and they believe that the same thing seems sweet to some who taste it and bitter to others with the result that if all men were sick or if they were all insane and two or three were healthy or in their right mind, wouldn’t it seem that these few were sick and crazy and not the rest?”

[1] —ὅμοιως δὲ καὶ ἡ περὶ τὰ φαινόμενα ἀλήθεια ἐνίοις ἐκ τῶν αἰσθητῶν ἐλήλυθεν. τὸ μὲν γὰρ ἀληθὲς οὐ πλήθει κρίνεσθαι οἴονται προσήκειν οὐδὲ ὀλιγότητι, τὸ δ᾽ αὐτὸ τοῖς μὲν γλυκὺ γευομένοις δοκεῖν εἶναι τοῖς δὲ πικρόν, ὥστ᾽ εἰ πάντες ἔκαμνον [5] ἢ πάντες παρεφρόνουν, δύο δ᾽ ἢ τρεῖς ὑγίαινον ἢ νοῦν εἶχον, δοκεῖν ἂν τούτους κάμνειν καὶ παραφρονεῖν τοὺς δ᾽ ἄλλους οὔ:

Image result for ancient greek comedy vase

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